NBA Playoffs: How former Bulls fared in first round series originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
While there still remains one first-round series unresolved — the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks are set for a Game 7 on Sunday — here’s a breakdown of how select former Bulls are faring in the postseason:
Payne’s NBA days looked over after a disastrous tenure in Chicago, followed by a short stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, then a season in China. But he signed with the Phoenix Suns for the 2020 restart bubble and has since fully rebounded, carving out an essential role as a bench-unit commander.
In the Suns’ six-game first-round victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, Payne averaged 12.5 points, 3.3 assists and shot 42.9 percent from 3-point range, providing a spark as starting point guard Chris Paul battled through injury.
Portis, too, has seen his career revive with a contender. He shot a personal-best 47.1 percent from 3-point range in the regular season, finding himself on six Sixth Man of the Year ballots.
In the Bucks’ first-round sweep of the Miami Heat, he cleared double-figures three times and connected on nearly half of his 3-point attempts (6-for-13). With Donte DiVincenzo sidelined for the remainder of the postseason, Portis, PJ Tucker, Bryn Forbes and Pat Connaughton will all be key role players as Milwaukee continues their title push.
Gafford exited stage left at the trade deadline in the three-team deal that netted the Bulls Daniel Theis, Troy Brown Jr. and Javonte Green. While the beginning of his second season was rocky, he found a solid niche with the Wizards, averaging 10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks down the stretch of the regular season, then 11.8 points (on 84.6 percent shooting), 5.8 rebounds and 2 blocks in their first-round loss to the 76ers, starting each of their final two games.
One stat that says it all: Russell Westbrook assisted on Gafford buckets 42 times in 23 regular-season games together. In Gafford’s 74 total appearances with the Bulls (spanning 2019-20 and 2020-21), Coby White assisted him the most — 21 times. Half as many as Westbrook, but in almost three times as many games together (67).
Julius Randle was the Knicks’ best player throughout the regular season, but Rose wasn’t far behind. Then, the 32-year-old guard seized that mantle in New York’s first-round loss to the Hawks, averaging 19.4 points and 5 assists across five games, which featured three starts after he usurped Elfrid Payton. Rose was especially key in the team’s Game 2 win, posting 26 points and four assists in front of a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd.
The Knicks ended the regular season 24-11 with Rose in the lineup. After spurring New York to a breakthrough campaign, he’s a free agent this offseason, and has certainly earned himself a payday.
Speaking of the Knicks crowd… Gibson also started the last three games of New York’s first round series after starting center Nerlens Noel suffered an ankle injury. Gibson averaged 5 points 7 rebounds (3.2 offensive), 1.6 steals and 1 block for the series, and brought veteranship all season for the Tom Thibodeau-coached squad.
Rondo’s Clippers are preparing for a Game 7 against the Mavericks as of this writing. In the first six games of the series, he’s seen his playing time diminish (as Reggie Jackson has found a spark) and is averaging just 4.8 points and 5 assists. Still, he’s been an impactful trade deadline pickup for the Clippers.
After an uber-competitive Game 1, Butler’s Heat fell hard to the Bucks in a four-game sweep. And while Butler enjoyed one of the best regular seasons of his career — when he played — he shot a combined 19-for-64 (29.7 percent) from the floor against Milwaukee, a far cry from Mimai’s run to the NBA Finals last year.
Parker found himself a sporadic role with the Boston Celtics as a bench bucket-getter down the stretch. In the team’s last two first-round losses to the Nets, which both came in double digit fashion, Parker posted 10 and 13 points respectively off the pine.
Lopez, along with Gafford, continued a steady role in the Wizards’ center rotation against the 76ers, averaging 7.4 points in five first-round games.
After a short stint with the Utah Jazz, Harrison found a niche with the Denver Nuggets, whose backcourt has been depleted by injuries. Harrison logged just 29 minutes in their six-game first-round win over the Portland Trail Blazers, but had utility in spot minutes guarding Damian Lillard.
After playing 13 minutes apiece in the Hawks’ first two games against the Knicks, Snell, who shot a whopping 56.9 percent from 3-point range during the regular season, registered three straight DNPs as Atlanta closed out the series.
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